The Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is the world’s biggest ape and is one of two subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla (Gorilla beringei). The Mountain Gorilla is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, with the total population of surviving mountain gorillas numbered only 1,004 individuals as of 2018. As their name indicates, Mountain Gorillas’ habitat and restricted to natural rainforests high in the mountains, at elevations of 8,000 to 15,000 feet.
Mountain gorillas share 96% of our DNA with us humans and their social structure is so alike to our own. Males have an average weight of 196 kg (430 lb) and an upright standing height of about 150 cm (60 inches). The males usually weigh twice as much as the females, which an average weight of about 100 kg (220 lb) and a height of 130 cm (51 in). Despite their great size, they are very gentle and shy. They live in social groups led by a dominant male called a Silverback because of grey hairs that begin to grow on their back once they mature. Numbers that make a family averaging from 5 to 35 members of young males called Blackbacks, females, juveniles, and babies.
Over half of the world’s Mountain gorillas are only found in the densely vegetated rainforests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda and the other half freely roam the dormant Virunga Mountain ranges that are shared between Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in D.R Congo.
The Mountain Gorilla was first discovered in 1902 and since then the species has undergone great calamities and mishaps. The area they live in has faced years of conflict due to war and civil unrest with different factions taking advantage of the heavily forested and mountainous terrain of the region. With relative peace returning later in the years, the Mountain gorilla further faced the threat of habitat loss and destruction due to the increase of the human population flocking to these rich volcanic lands for agricultural cultivation.
The influx of people in the region further threatened the health of Mountain Gorillas. Mountain Gorillas are caught in snares and traps set up to trap smaller animals like antelopes which leaves them maimed and may not survive the attacks. Poaching is another threat to the mountain gorilla. In the early years after they had been discovered, young gorillas were hunted for sale to foreign zoos. Gorilla families are extremely protective of their young and the attempts to capture the young gorillas usually led to adults being killed since they fight to defend their young to death. Most tragic was that the zoos eventually realized that the mountain gorillas cannot survive outside their natural high-montane forest habitat. Unfortunately, a lot of damage had been already done to the species. Today, poachers still hunt mountain gorillas for their skulls and hands sold as souvenirs and trophies to tourists and collectors.
However, a lot of conservation efforts have been made to conserve these gentle giants. Conservation requires work at many levels, from local to international, and involves protection and law enforcement as well as research and education. Gorilla tourism has impacted the countries where the gorillas live positively with them seeing millions of dollars annually brought in by tourists to see these amazing creatures. Mountain gorillas are a major tourist attraction in Uganda.
The locals themselves are also seeing a positive impact on Mountain gorilla conservation. They also benefit from tourism through multiplier linkages the tourism dollars provide. Facilities are built in the areas around the national parks to accommodate the tourists, people are hired to work in these facilities, farmers sell their produce to the hotels that accommodate tourists, and schools, youth, women, and cultural groups get support. Local tour operators too, like Agiire Travels, all get to benefit from mountain gorilla conservation.
Gorilla trekking is a very captivating activity, and it is very important to book your trip with a local tour operator based in Uganda, with hands-on expertise to plan this once-in-a-lifetime experience. You will need to be extremely well prepared before you partake in this life-changing adventure deep in the Ugandan mountain rainforests. The tips provided below will guide you as you plan for your great mountain gorilla trekking trip in Uganda.
Where to go for Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Uganda is the safest and cheapest place to go for mountain gorilla trekking. With fair prices for permits, a variety of amazing lodges to suit all budgets, professional rangers, guides, and well-developed infrastructure for communication and road networks, Uganda is a favorite for Mountain gorilla trekking. More to this is the fact that half of the population of the last remaining mountain gorillas are found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Gorillas live in families, some of which have been habituated for tourism purposes. In Bwindi, you can trek/track different families depending on which area you choose to stay in, or your interests. For bird lovers, we recommend the Ruhija area. Here, you can track the Mukiza, Oruzago, Kyagulira, and Bitukura families, as well as enjoy some unique Albertine Rift Endemic birds which are found in these montane rainforests only. With our Mountain Gorilla and Albertine Rift Endemic Birding Packages, you get more time in the forest to truly discover these beautiful but elusive stunning birds after tracking the Mountain Gorillas.
Buhoma area is a more tourist and busy area, you can track the Katwe, Mubare, Habinyanja, and Rushegura families. Here we have perfect Moutain Gorilla and Culture packages where you can interact more with the locals, share experiences and see the life-changing impact Mountain Gorilla tourism has brought to the people surrounding the Park.
The Nkuringo area is hillier than the other areas and those who are adventurous and love a challenge can track the Nkuringo, Christmas, and Bushaho groups. We have designed the unspoiled Mountain Gorillas and Walking safari which lead you through the forest gallery to see more of this Impenetrable forest. These packages are particularly popular because you have more than one chance for sighting Mountain Gorillas as you hike through the forest.
The Rushaga area is more scenic and surrounded by amazing views of the Mountains and craters lakes. We love Rushaga because it is very scenic and romantic and there are more habituated Mountain Gorilla groups, so procuring gorilla permits is less hectic than in other areas. Our Mountain Gorilla and Crater Lakes packages are a favorite for honeymooning couples and those seeking some Rest and Relaxation chill time after the trekking adventures. You can track the Mushaya, Busingye, Bikingi, Kahungye, Rwigi, Bweza, Nsongi, Muchunguzi, and Kutu families.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is part of the Virunga mountain ranges and it’s the other place in Uganda where you can track/trek mountain gorillas. The park consists of three dormant volcanoes and mountain climbers will exceptionally enjoy trekking the gorillas here since you can choose our exciting Mountain Gorillas and Volcanic Mountains Packages. It’s also an exceptional place for bird watching and for viewing another elusive Albertine Rift special called the Golden Monkey- found nowhere else in Uganda. There’s only one habituated gorilla family to track here called Nyakagezi.
Best time to go Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Mountain Gorilla trekking can be carried out all through the year. It depends on your tastes and preferences as to when to choose to go. Uganda lies in the equatorial region and thus is blessed with daily perpetual sunshine 365 days of the year and thus two seasons, the wet and the dry seasons. Mountain Gorillas live in high mountain rainforests which can experience bouts of rainfall daily. Most people prefer to track gorillas in the Dry Season in Uganda since the forest is not as rainy and muddy. The first dry season occurs in the months of June, July, August, and September and the second dry season occurs in the months of December, January, and February. These are the peak seasons of Mountain Gorilla activity in Uganda and we advise you to procure permits as early as 6 months in advance in order to track your intended group of habituated families.
The Wet Season in Uganda is generally experienced in March, April, and May as well as in October and November. Although there is generally more rain experienced during this season, an advantage of tracking gorillas in the wet season is that there is plenty of food for the Mountain Gorillas to eat. The Gorillas don’t have to forage for long distances to find food so it is very easy to find them. There are also higher chances of getting to see more than one family since they are also inactive during the rainy days which is an added advantage to you.
Uganda Wildlife Authority also encourages tourists to visit during this low season and discounts Mountain Gorilla Permits during these months. With our Budget Mountain Gorilla packages, you can get to enjoy this thrilling encounter of trekking the Mountain Gorillas without breaking the bank!
How, when, and where to procure a Mountain Gorilla Permit
Mountain Gorillas are a critically endangered species and thus the Uganda Wildlife Authority strictly regulates the number of tourists allowed to visit these gentle giants each day. More to this, the Mountain Rainforests where they reside are quite fragile and mass tourism will destroy thousands of little critters and plant species unique to these beautiful ecosystems. Strictly only 8 people are allowed to track each gorilla family per day.
This is why we advise our visitors intending to track Mountain gorillas to purchase their Gorilla Permits at least 4 months prior to your safari for individuals and at least 6 months if you intend to track Mountain Gorillas as a group. This enables us to adequately purchase the permits for the Mountain Gorilla Family you are interested in tracking as well as plan for the logistics for special interest activities you may want to partake in after the trekking.
Mountain Gorilla Permits are ONLY sold by Uganda Wildlife Authority on a first come first serve basis and are non-refundable. The cost of one permit is USD 600 for Non-resident foreigners, USD 500 for Resident foreigners, and UGX 300,000 for East Africans and Ugandan Citizens. For the ultimate Mountain Gorilla Experience, you can partake in the Gorilla Habituation activity where you can spend the whole day with the gorillas at USD 1,500 per permit.
You can purchase the permits directly from Uganda Wildlife Authority. However, priority is given to Tour Operators as they provide steady clientele all through the year. We at Agiire purchase Mountain Gorilla Permits on behalf of our clients and we ensure all paperwork, requirements, and vouchers are ready for you when you arrive in the country for your seamless and exciting Mountain Gorilla adventure safari.
Age and Physical Requirements for Mountain Gorilla Trekking
Although Mountain Gorillas are quite peaceful and non-aggressive, they are quite massive and strong, especially the mature male Silverbacks which can triple a man’s weight. When feeling threatened, they stand upright on their hind legs and thump their chests as a show of dominance. The families we visit have been habituated to humans and will generally ignore us as they go about their usual daily activities of feeding and resting on the leafy grounds. Although we usually maintain a distance of 7 meters from the gorillas, the little curious juveniles may approach and touch visitors. Unfortunately, children below 15 years are not allowed to trek Mountain gorillas.
The Mountain gorillas we trek are habituated to human presence but they are still free to roam as they wish. Their habitat like their name suggests is quite mountainous or hilly, with dense vegetation and steep slopes on the muddy rainforest floor. Trekking Mountain gorillas usually takes from 2 to 6 hours through the rainforest. One should be able to walk comfortably for that time. The pace is unrushed and you can enjoy the beauty of the forest birds, reptiles, and other primates as you trek for the gorillas. Porters are available for hire at USD 10-20 if you have a heavy backpack or you may need assistance on a tiresome trek. You must carry adequate water, at least 2 liters, and some energy snacks to replenish your energy while you track the gorillas. Your hotel will usually provide you with a packed lunch which you can enjoy as a picnic in the forest. Remember not to litter and pack all used plastics, wrappers and uneaten food to be disposed of suitably when you return to the briefing base where you began the trek.
What to Pack for Your Mountain Gorilla Trekking Adventure
When trekking Mountain gorillas, you will be in the mountainous tropical rainforests. There are chances of showers every single day whether it’s the dry or wet season. It’s advisable to pack good waterproof hiking boots since you will be trekking the gorillas for quite a distance. You should also carry a waterproof backpack, a raincoat, or a waterproof poncho. Long sleeved shirt, trousers, and a light sweater are also required as it can sometimes get chilly and also protect you from the nettles and climbing plants you may brush against. Long socks which you can tuck your trousers will protect you from ants that may climb on you. Insect repellant, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and gloves are also necessary. Remember the clothes should be in nature-friendly colors, like greens and browns. Don’t forget to pack enough water- at least 2 liters and energy snacks to replenish your energy on a long trek. Walking sticks will be provided for you at the briefing base before you begin your trek. Finally do not forget your camera to capture those unforgettable memories with the Gentle Giants, the Mountain Gorillas.
Briefing before Mountain Gorilla Trekking
Before you embark on your trek, you will gather at the base of the park for registration and briefing. Here you will be divided into your groups as per your permits, and introduced to your guides, rangers, and trackers who will escort you during your trek. You will be briefed about the rules you must follow while on the trek and these include the following.
You are required to keep a distance of 7 meters from the mountain gorillas. We share 96% of our DNA with them and they are susceptible to catching some of our infections.
Stand still in case of the Silverback displays by mock charging, and avoid direct contact with him as staring directly at him shows you are challenging his authority.
Do not use flash photography. Turn off your flash before heading into the forest.
You will trek for the gorillas and once you encounter them, you are allowed one hour to observe them. After that, you will be led back to the base.
Do not trek when sick and if you feel the need to cough or sneeze, kindly cover your mouth with your elbow.
Do not litter the forest, only leave footprints. Carry all used plastics, uneaten food, water bottles, and wrappers back to the base where they will be disposed of adequately.